Member of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and former Council chairman in Plateau State, Barrister Solomon Dalong, has charged the Middle Belt Forum,
to work for the emergence of a northern Christian Presidential candidate, rather than campaigning for President Goodluck Jonathan.
This is even as he kicked against the recent endorsement of President Goodluck Jonathan by Middle Belt leaders, saying that Jonathan has done nothing to protect and preserve the interest of northern Christians.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sun last Thursday, Dalong, who described the Middle Belt struggle as an “enterprise of political patronage,” further said the group’s agitation was “a mere handbag association without any known office and even registered members.”
He said further that he grew up as a zealot of the Middle Belt struggle on the understanding that the plight of the minorities in Nigeria was caused by the majority ethnic nationalities, adding that, “having been under tutelage of one of the founders of the concept in the First Republic, I hated the Hausa/Fulani with a passion.
By the political orientation, I believed that every problem of the Northern minorities was caused by the Hausa/Fulani.” He further said: “I joined the emancipation philosophy at the age of 18 while in form two in secondary school. In fact, my service in the promotion of ethnic and religious politics was unprecedented.
This political indoctrination enslaved my conscience greatly that my mentor was second to God.” He was, however, quick to add that “One contradiction that was eminent was the fact that despite much-preached hatred of the Hausa/Fulani and the use of religion as a political weapon, the best associates of my principal were Hausa Fulani. They were muslims who visited him regularly and even had more access to him than any Christian from the minorities.
He gave them more opportunities and invested more on them than anybody. Yet, in closet we were made not to trust or like them. “My mentor gave jobs in strategic positions to children of his Muslim political associates but will not do same to Christian allies.
Today, I know many of such beneficiaries holding strategic positions even in the security services courtesy of my principal. “It is quite unfortunate that 57 years after the Middle Belt struggle was launched, it still uses religion and ethnicity as tool for political negotiation. It started as minority struggle for identity but today, reverse is the case.
It has reduced its initial ideology to an engine of promoting ethnic and religious hatred. “The fears of the minorities were based on cultural ideology for identity which was genuine, but what is the driving force of such agitation in contemporary Nigeria? The Northern minority struggle was a region of their own, distinct from the Hausa Fulani so as to promote and preserve their culture and traditions.
“In 1967, the Middle Belt region was divided into three states and now six states, namely, Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, Taraba, Niger and Kwara states. What then are the Northern minorities asking for? These states are governed by their own people and not Hausa Fulani. All the natural and statutory allocations are controlled by them.
So, why the cry for marginalization? Who is marginalizing who? “In my humble but candid opinion, the minority struggle has lost focus and is a mere tool of exploitation in the hands of some leaders. It employs religious sentiments to manipulate the people for personal political patronage.
The map of the Middle Belt struggle is no more geo- political but religious. “Anywhere in the North that there are Christian settlements is in their new Middle Belt map. This development has prevented the growth of Christian Association of Nigeria, northern states, because the politicians have hijacked their responsibilities for parochial benefits,” he added.
Lambasting the Middle Belt leaders, Dalung further said: “The forum only exists whenever there is political activity, then the leaders dust their secretariat bag to make weighty statements which will attract attention. Once they are settled, then that will be the end of the issue.
“In 2003, there was a loud noise about marginalization, the Middle Belt leaders threatened not to support Obasanjo, finally when they struck a deal and went with him, he gave them three positions, two ambassadorial positions and one Special Adviser. The leader of the forum gave his wife and daughter, while the Chairman, Group Captain Dan Suleman took the other position and went to Russia as ambassador. That was all. “The Middle Belt leadership lacks the moral standing to use religion as a tool. Why? All those who sustained them financially during periods of their great travails were all muslims.
The former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, solidly financed and sustained the Middle Belt leadership when President Obasanjo had sour relationship with some of them. “Who brought Professor Jerry Gana to lime light? General Ibrahim Babangida, Muslim and so many of such instances. “The Middle Belt agitation is a mere hand bag association without any known office and even registered members. There is no secretariat or even employees despite the huge clamor about it.
There is no single project for the benefit of the people today the group can boast of achieving. “The people of the Middle Belt languished in abject poverty, hunger and perennial instability. This high profile group has never attracted any intervention of either the Federal Government or international agencies despite the sophisticated networks of the leaders.
The Middle Belt leadership has never contributed relief materials to the crisis victims in the region, except to visit government houses on such occasions for their welfare packages. “And the Middle Belt people have been at the receiving end, while their leaders live in Abuja and only issue press statements from the comfort of their mansions. Unfortunately, the younger minds, even though enlightened, have been enslaved by this hypocrisy of religious manipulation.
What is religious about what is happening? Is hunger a Christian or muslim or what is the tribe of poverty? In looting the treasury, they are neither muslims nor christians but for the sake of dominating the people, religion and ethnicity become an issue. Granted, the crisis had also given some level of justification for some sort of fear, however, who are the financiers? I believe the same people, just to create fear and panic so as to avoid accountability. How many poor people can afford an AK 47 rifle? Who provided it and for what? If it is for the defence and protection of the society, why are their children not involved?
“These deceit of a few who have been ripping from the sweat sweat of the people in the name of a sectional, religious but non existing organization, deserves re-appraisal. Recently, they re-grouped because 2015 is in focus. They visited the President to lure him to contest the election. Thereafter, they issued a statement to that effect.
I have no quarrel with their visit, but I have so many issues with their statement. If they are canvassing support for the President for second time, I challenged them to show basis. If it is on the basis of religious sentiments, have the President associated with the suffering of the Middle Belt christians? After the post-election violence, did he care to visit or send anybody to visit them?
Has the President sent any form of assistance, whether from his personal earnings to assist those Christians whose worship places were destroyed? Sanusi Lamido Sanusi donated N100 million to his people in Kano during the crisis, what prevented you from doing same Mr. President? Will Goodluck Jonathan be a christian to us only for the sake of election?
“Another sad aspect of this visit is that, among the Middle Belt leaders, there are people who have once contested the presidency but now prefer to be political tools. Why can’t the Middle Belt produce a person to contest, but they prefer the role of palace servant.
Is there no capable Christian minority in the North to contest the 2015 general election? In as much as there is much clamour for power to return upwards, it will be in our interest to present a candidate instead of trans-River Niger slavery, which is worst than the hegemony.
The Middle Belt has suffered worst neglect under southern Christian leaders. Obasanjo started it and Goodluck has continued it, unabated. I challenge the leadership of the Middle Belt forum to blow their trumpets, instead of blowing others. On a Northern Christian President I stand in 2015,” he said.